Camden has long been known as the spiritual home for misfits. Come, all ye oddballs, the streets of Camden scream. All are welcome!
Although nowadays it’s a little less punk haven and a little more tourist trap (yes, I’m looking at you, pastas dunked into cheese wheels), there are still pockets of Camden that have retained its unconventional charm. It’s also where punky pair and Israeli chefs Shiri Kraus and Amir Batito have set up shop for both their restaurants, The Black Cow and the newer Epicurus, just minutes away from each other.
Like The Black Cow, modeled after the classic American steakhouse but infused with Middle Eastern flavours, Epicurus takes its culinary cue from across the pond. This time, Kraus and Batito decided to focus on the all-American diner and put their Israeli twist on classics like pancakes, wings and ribs. When I ask if this is because American food is a bit of a blank slate, Kraus swiftly corrects me; to her, it’s all about the excitement of infusing the character of American cuisine with Israeli flavours and seeing what’s possible. It’s a pairing that I think is unusual, but to the chefs, makes perfect sense.
It’s a warm, balmy day when I make my way to Epicurus to meet my friend, as well as Kraus and Batito. The outdoor space is placed tantalisingly in the late afternoon sun, so we bask in it as our tiny table fills up with more plates than is sensible. The quirky menu features punny dish names like “Chip Chip Hooray”, “Raspoutine”, “Top Dog” and “Sloppy Yossef”, which I find immediately endearing – my love for a good (or even bad) puns knows no bounds. We are instructed to eat as many things as possible with our hands, although Kraus concedes: “You could use a fork, I’ll only judge in silence.”
We find delight in the “Oof Gozal” – chicken wings coated in a yellow Amba mango and Scotch bonnet sauce. Despite the use of the fearsome chilli, these wings are barely spicy, favouring the flavour of the Scotch bonnet over the heat. They are incredibly moreish and the fact that your fingers end up being absolutely covered in sauce is only an invitation to get licking. You should also definitely get the “Papi Chulo”, a mix of crunchy deep-fried okra and soft padron peppers covered in spices that come with a lemony-garlicky-chilli aioli for dipping. It’s brilliant for snacking on in the sun.
Another honourable mention goes to the Epicurus single decker burger, which is also available as a double. It contains some of the richest, fattiest ingredients I’ve ever seen between buns, like bone marrow aioli and Baron cheese, and it does border on being a bit too unctuous. The Harissa bacon jam helps pull it back a little, but only just. Would I eat it again? Definitely. But I probably would get a salad instead of chips to make myself feel slightly better about ingesting all that fat. I am usually glad when menus don’t have calorie counts – even when they do, I avert my gaze determinedly – and boy, am I really glad there’s no calorie count on this menu.
Not everything hits the spot, which I’m hoping Kraus and Batito will be able to tweak until they do. The “Dakdakim”, pancakes stuffed with pulled shawarma chicken, has the trappings of something great, but the addition of both bacon jam and spiced quince make the dish too sickly sweet. Meanwhile, the rack of babyback ribs covered in a deliciously tart-yet-sweet date honey and pomegranate molasses needs a bit more fat on the bones to make it truly delectable – otherwise the mouth-puckering quality of the sauce make the too-lean ribs a bit too dry to really enjoy. But these are small gripes, and ones that I’m happy to forgive if they are improved upon.
Is it worth elbowing your way through the thronging crowds of Camden Lock Market to get to Epicurus? I think it will be. Never mind the cheap tat and endless boba tea shops (most of which are simply not very good, there are better places to visit boba tea that isn’t just a sugar bomb) – head to Epicurus for a tasty escape.
Epicurus, Unit 90, Camden Stables Market, Greater, London NW1 8AH | www.epicuruscamden.co.uk | 07843 199560